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Sustainable Development

Natural Capital Accounting: Going beyond the numbers

Stig Johansson's picture
Guatemala. World Bank

Here are some facts that you might not know: Do these numbers just seem like bits of trivia? In fact, these are all important results that came out of natural capital accounting (NCA) – a system for generating data on natural resources, such as forests, energy and water, which are not included in traditional statistics. NCA follows standards approved by the United Nations to ensure trust, consistency and comparison across time and countries.
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.

Mauritania’s race against the rising sea

Nathalie Abu-Ata's picture
Photo by Nathalie Abu-Ata / World Bank

“If we don’t take action now…the city of Nouakchott will soon be underwater.” These words, spoken by Mauritania’s Minister on Environment and Sustainable Development Amedi Camara, during a recent workshop in the country’s capital city, echoed a recurrent theme during our visits with Mauritanian authorities and local communities alike. They have stuck with me since.

Floods are not a new phenomenon for Nouakchott. A busy port city on Africa’s west coast, Nouakchott is mostly below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to rising groundwater levels, seawater intrusions, porous soils, sand extractions, and heavy rains in low-lying areas. Poorly planned port infrastructure has dramatically altered the dynamic and flow of sediments along the coast leading to substantial erosion in the city’s south (up to 25 meters annually in some years).

To make matters worse, severe and sometimes deadly floods have struck the city in recent decades. Extreme weather and human interventions have played a significant role in making the capital, with one-third of the population, or 1 million people, increasingly vulnerable to floods. 

There is no planet B

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: Français | Español | العربية
Zanizbar, Tanzania. Photo by Sonu Jani / World Bank

At this week's UN Sustainable Development Summit, the world's oceans will be getting the attention they have long deserved -- but not always received. They are the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 14: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development."

The inclusion of oceans for the first time in the international-development agenda illustrates the ambitious and holistic view of challenges and solutions that nations are embracing. With the SDGs, nations are calling for a future in which nature is managed to drive economies, enhance well-being and sustain lives -- whether in Washington or Nairobi, on land or sea.

Fifteen years ago, nations convened at the UN and created an unprecedented set of guideposts, the Millennium Development Goals. In that timespan, the number of people living in extreme poverty was more than halved. But the oceans were not part of those goals. We now have the opportunity to focus minds globally on restoring healthy oceans for resilient economies and thriving communities. 

This attention comes not a moment too soon.

Human wellbeing depends on a functioning planet—the Pope’s call

Paula Caballero's picture
Children in Bhutan look out on terraced fields. (Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank)The papal encyclical “on care for our common home” reflects the kind of insightful and decisive leadership that will be needed to reverse trends that will affect humanity’s capacity to feed itself and provide for collective well-being. The encyclical is not only a sobering call to address climate change, but also a manifesto for environmental stewardship and action. It touches on topics that we, as earth’s dominant species, need to urgently care about if we are to keep millions out of poverty today and tomorrow, and deliver on the rising expectations of a global middle class.

At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.

The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.

Burundi reinforces conservation for resilience amid political tensions

Paola Agostini's picture
Photo by IRRI via Creative CommonsFor those keeping abreast of Burundi’s state of affairs, it could be easy to forget that the country is much more inviting than what we have seen lately in the media. Despite the ongoing crisis, Burundians have kept an uphill battle to reinforce the conservation and management of the nation’s forest areas

Connecting the dots in 2015 for sustainable development

Paula Caballero's picture
View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, DR Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard for CIFOR via Creative CommonsWhat will 2015 stand for? Only half-way through the year, it may be risky to make predictions. But 2015, a year in which the international community is supposed to forge new deals for climate action and sustainable development, should be a year rich in connections. A year in which the health of the planet is finally understood to be of central concern to the future of people. A year in which the management of natural resources – from fish stocks and fresh water, to fertile soil, forest habitats and the carbon in the atmosphere - is understood to have significant national, international and inter-generational consequences.

Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.

Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.

How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?

Why We’re Making a Stand for Resilient Landscapes in Lima

Magda Lovei's picture
Photo by Andrea Borgarello / TerrAfrica, World Bank)​World leaders and land actors are in Lima this week to help advance climate action. Climate resilience—including the resilience of African landscapes—will be at center of the agenda as they define the role of sustainable, resilient landscapes for a new development agenda.
Why should the world—and Africa in particular—care about resilience?
The importance of resilience as an imperative for development is nowhere as obvious as in Africa. Fragile natural resources—at the core of livelihoods and economic opportunities—are under increasing pressure from unsustainable use, population pressure, and the impacts of climate change.
Sustainable development will only be possible in Africa if natural resources are valued and protected. It will only be possible if their resilience to shocks such as climate change is improved. ​Resilient landscapes—where natural resources and biodiversity thrive in interconnected ecosystems that can adapt to change and protect people from losses—are important to the work of ending poverty and boosting prosperity.


Empowering new generations to act

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français | 中文
Photo by CIAT via CIFOR FlickrWhen I look at the rate of resource depletion, at soil erosion and declining fish stocks, at climate change’s impacts on nearly every ecosystem, I see a physical world that is slowly but inexorably degrading. I call it the "receding reality"—the new normal—slow onset phenomena that lull us into passivity and acceptance of a less rich and diverse world.

In my lifetime, I have seen waters that were teeming with multi-colored fish, turn dead like an empty aquarium. I have seen the streets of Bogota, my home town, lose thousands of trees in a matter of years.

It’s tempting to feel demoralized. But as the world’s protected area specialists, conservationists and decision makers gather in Sydney, Australia, this week for the World Parks Congress, there is also much to hope for.


Done Right, Hydropower Can Help Fight Energy and Water Poverty

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Water and energy are inseparable. An increase or decrease in one immediately affects the other. The interdependence of water and energy is the topic of the moment in Stockholm right now at World Water Week. Forums large and small are focusing on the energy we need to pump, store, transport and treat water and the water we need to produce almost all sorts of energy.

Sustainable Development Challenges Post 2015 Need a Multisectoral Focus

Paula Caballero's picture

A few weeks ago, the working group tasked with drafting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) issued its official list of recommended goals and targets for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September. It is an extraordinary milestone:  As far as I know, it is the first time that metrics are defined through a robust intergovernmental process. The Millennium Development Goals, which will expire next year, were the result of a very different process.  The international community is showing a growing appetite for setting targets and tracking results to ensure concrete action on the ground.

While the ultimate outcome of the SDG process is still uncertain, sharpening our collective focus on results is good news for the sustainability of our planet and for creating the conditions not only for pulling people out of poverty, but for enabling rich, productive lives. It is a cliché, but it is true: what gets measured, matters.